A cold wet and blustery day feels an appropriate Icelandic start to Eve Fanfest 2012. Among the keynotes, round-tables and updates on the Eve universe, the major attractor here is CCP fully throwing back the curtain on Dust 514. Dust 514 is a free to play MMOFPS with some interesting integration with CCP's other property, Eve Online, and the game will be releasing later this year to the PS3 and SEN. Today was the first chance for many to get their hands-on Dust 514 and actually play the game. CCP has some lofty goals for Dust 514, with its 2012 mission to make Dust 514 and Eve into the largest combined online community. Likewise, Dust 514 has its own goals that the developers want to accomplish: the first is to simply make a game with a look and feel you can fall in love with, the second is to add unmatched persistence, and finally, to marry this experience to the Eve universe.
Some of Dust's most impressive features are the integration with Eve Online. The setting itself is the Eve universe, and you'll be fighting on the same planets that you fly around in space. Watching in real time as the developers demonstrated a player in Dust requesting an orbital strike and a player with his dreadnaught in Eve was able to lock-on and deliver a salvo was impressive, to say the least. Players are even able to chat and mail each other across the two games.
The Isk that flows in the game's economy is the same currency from the online game with items from Dust existing on the markets in Eve and being crafted in that universe as well. This allows for some of the same player-driven interaction that exists in Eve. Imagine, for instance, an Eve corporation hoarding missile launchers and instead releasing tons of vehicles. Then once the battle areas are flooded with tanks they can make a killing on selling the weapons to defeat them. However, NPCs will also seed the market to a degree to keep such activities somewhat in check; the stated ideal was to have the two games enhance each other, not detract. The future vision is even to allow for mercenaries to travel up to the stations and interact with Eve players directly, settling the deals over a Quafe in the station's bar.
Something that might throw new players for a loop is that you lose your current set of gear on death, something most Eve players are all too familiar with but probably not so much for your average FPS player. However, gear is priced to be bought in bulk and there are systems in place to allow for easy restocking in the field. This also brings up some interesting dilemmas; you may not want to risk your limited stock of that expensive prototype quality equipment until the match is really on the line or the contract is particularly lucrative. Looting among a number of other systems that pertain to itemization and monization are still being closely examined and will be given more details during the coming months of beta. The devs have promised that despite being free to play, they will absolutely not be pay to win. Paid items will mostly be limited to side grades and will still be restricted by skills. So no one can simply go in and kit themselves out from day one.
Dust 514 will feel more familiar to Eve players than you might expect when moving from a space RPG to a ground based FPS, and the same systems should be pleasantly new to console players. Your mercenary has quarters just like your captain quarters that allow you to interact with the menus like the market or battle finder in a more tangible way, though a full menu bar can still be brought up if you'd rather not bother. The fitting and skills menu will be very recognizable to Eve fans, and bring along a lot of the same flexible ideal. Brand new players will pick from a number of specializations that will start you off with a few specific skills to unlock, but you're free to progress your character truly to your own choosing. Maybe you want to be the scout with a heavy weapon instead of the more typical sniper rifle or a heavy armor with a drop uplink for inserting your team behind the enemy lines; even the vehicles have their own set of turrets and augmentations. It's possible to focus solely on non-combative roles. It's a system easy to wrap your head around, but open to a lot of experimentation. By my second time playing I was already running with a custom load out that I felt matched my style better then the defaults.
On the gameplay front, fans of Battlefield should feel right at home with a few caveats to get used to. You'll have access to an array of weapons, equipment and armor types, but more freedom in deciding how to mix and match them. Vehicles are actually called down by deployment ships instead of spawning in predesignated spots, and the maps are large enough to support them. A map that's several miles square was said to only be medium sized. There is also that same heavily objective based gameplay. The map we saw shown off tasked attackers with taking out strategic points to allow their mobile command vehicle to dock with the defenders' outpost. The defenders are instead trying to either keep their guns online to destroy the MCV or deplete all the attackers' reserve clones. The nod to clones, and the lore behind them, is a clever intersection of gameplay and setting, explaining why you lose your equipment but not your skills and why you can respawn at all.
Even if some of these gameplay mechanics sound frustrating, one of the developers urged players to try it since it's free. The game is designed to allow for this "how deep down the rabbit hole" style, so whether you're looking for jump in and play in high security space with tightly controlled matchmaking, or the real rewards and no holds barred fighting is out in fringe space with mercenary companies fighting to control worlds for their respective corporations that are battling it out among the stars, Dust 514 is worth keeping an eye on.